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Mara Name Meaning: Origin, Popularity & Nicknames

Learn about the name Mara including the meaning, gender, origin, popularity, and more.

Mara Overview

  • Meaning: In Hebrew, Mara means ‘Bitter.’ It means ‘Of the sea’ in Latin, and ‘Spotted Land’ in Kiswahili.
  • Gender: Mara is typically a female name.
  • Origin: Mara is a Hebrew name that first appears in Exodus and the Book of Ruth.
  • Pronunciation: “MAHR-rah”
  • Popularity: Mara is a fairly popular name for girls.
  • Nicknames: Mar, Mari, Maria, Masha, Mia.
  • Variations: Marah, Mari, Maíri, Maj, Moira.
  • Namesakes: Mara Abbott, Mara Bar-Serapion, Mara Bergman, Mara Croatto, Mara Galeazzi.

What Does Mara Mean?

Mara is a name with several meanings. The most famous is Hebrew and found in the Book of Ruth. Here, Naomi, bereft of home and family, renames herself Mara, explaining it means ‘Bitter’.

However, Mara has several other meanings. In Slavic, Greek and Gaelic, it gets used as a derivative of Mary or Maria. In this context, Mara comes from the Latin ‘Mare’ and means ‘Of the Sea’.

The interpretation of Mara as meaning ‘sea’ is strengthened by its geographical connection to water.

The Mara is also a river in Kenya that flows into the Mara region of Tanzania. Interestingly, Mara does not mean ‘Of the sea’ or even ‘river’ in Kiswahili. Instead, it means ‘Spotted land’.

What Is the Origin of the Name Mara?

The origin of the name Mara depends on the language and country it’s associated with.

The Hebrew girl name Mara first appears in The Book of Ruth after Naomi’s widowhood and exile from Moab.

A variation on the name Mara appears even earlier in the Bible when Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt. Once out of Egypt, the Israelites wander in the wilderness and struggle to find food or water because the only available water is bitter. Moses strikes it with a staff, making it drinkable. But in memory of its original, bitter taste, they name the land Marah (1).

It also gets used in many Slavic countries as a diminutive of Maria, Marina, or even Tamara. In this context, Mara is a much older name, dating back to the third century (2).

How Popular Is the Name Mara?

The popularity of the name Mara has fluctuated over the years. In 2000 Mara was fairly popular, ranking 606th out of 1000.

It fell in popularity between 2000 and 2010. In 2010 the name was still fairly popular but recorded a record low of 868th out of 1000.

It rose in the following years inconsistently, as it dipped again in 2015 to 735th place. Since then, the name Mara’s popularity has increased gradually but consistently.

It remains a pretty popular name and ranks 540th out of 1000 at present – which is its peak popularity for the past 20 years (3).

How Do I Pronounce Mara?

You pronounce Mara: “MAH-rah.” Both ‘A’ sounds are long, and the stress falls on the first syllable. This is true irrespective of the language being spoken.

Is Mara a Boy or Girl Name?

Mara is a predominantly female name. Its often used as a diminutive for other girls’ names.

However, some countries use it as a diminutive for some boys’ names, like:

Variations of Mara

There are all kinds of variations on the name Mara. Some of these include:

  • Marah (Hebrew)
  • Mari (Armenian)
  • Maira (Gaelic)
  • Maíri(e) (Gaelic)
  • Maria (Basque, French, Latin, Greek, English, Scandinavian, Slavic)
  • Malia (Hawaiian)
  • Maj (Swedish)
  • Mária (Hungarian)
  • Marja (Estonian, Sorbian)
  • Mariam (Arabic)
  • Marija (Serbian, Croatian)
  • Marietjie (Afrikaans)
  • Mariya (Ukrainian, Kazak, Bulgarian)
  • Mariza (Spanish)
  • Mele (Samoan)
  • Mhaíri (Scottish Gaelic)
  • Moira (Scottish Gaelic)

Nicknames for Mara

Despite the short length of Mara as a name, it has surprising flexibility when it comes to nicknames. Popular nicknames include:

  • Mar
  • Mari
  • Maria
  • Marie
  • Marica
  • Marietta
  • Mariette
  • Marika
  • Mariska
  • Masha
  • Mia

Similar Names to Mara

Because there are so many variations on Mara, there are also many similar names. Some have similar sounds, and others share similar meanings. Popular alternatives to Mara are:

Middle Names for Mara

Mara is a flexible name that allows parents lots of choice in selecting a middle name. Popular middle names for Mara include:

Sibling Names for Mara

There is also a vast selection of names for siblings to Mara.

For a Brother:

Favorite boys’ names parents give brothers of children called Mara are:

For a Sister:

Famous People Named Mara

History is rife with well-known Maras. Their careers and lives vary wildly, and their name is the only thing they share. Here are some of the most famous:

  • Mara Abbott: American Cyclist.
  • Mara Bar-Serapion: Syriac writer in the first century AD.
  • Mara Bergman: American author.
  • Mara Croatto: Puerto Rican actress.
  • Mara Galeazzi: Italian ballet dancer.
  • Mara Margaret Helmuth: American composer.
  • Mara Hvistendahl: American award-winning journalist.
  • Mara Lopez: Filipino surfer.
  • Mara Wilson: American child actress.

Mara in Popular Culture

There are also several Maras in popular culture that have helped boost the name’s popularity. Some of these are:

  • Mara: Character in Dreamworks ‘She-Rah and the Princess of Power.’
  • Mara Amaratayakul: Character in Thai TV series ‘Girl from Nowhere.’
  • Mara Aramov: Antagonist character in the video game ‘Syphon Filter.’
  • Mara David: Character in a Filipino soap opera.
  • Mara Jade: Character in ‘Star Wars’ expanded universe.
  • Mara Jaffrey: Character in the TV show ‘House of Anubis.
  • Mara, Lady of the Acorna: Character in a series of co-authored novels.
  • Mara Sov: Queen of awoken people in free-to-play online first-person shooter game ‘Destiny 1’ and its sequel.

Mara FAQs

In addition to Mara’s meaning and origin, here are answers to other common questions about the name Mara.

Who Is Mara in the Bible?

Although there is no one named Mara in the Bible, it is the name Naomi gives herself after the death of her children in the Book of Ruth. It is also the name the Israelites give to their desert wilderness.

What Is Mara Short For?

Mara is short for:

  • Maria
  • Marinna
  • Tamara

Does the Name Mara Mean ‘Death?’

Mara is a Sanskrit goddess who personifies death (4). By association, the word also came to mean ‘death.’ However, these days, it is better known for its Hebraic and Latin interpretations, where Mara means “bitter” or “of the sea.”

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